Monday, May 11, 2015

NY-NJ Hiking Clubs Have a New Headquarters

NY-NJ Trail Conference photos  (

By Matthew Salerno

The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference recently got a new home in Mahwah across the road from Ramapo College and next to the Ramapo Valley County Reservation. After looking at the organization’s website, I went to the building and interviewed a man who works there. Gary Willick, the Fulfillment Coordinator for the coalition of hiking clubs, gave me insight about what the trail conference does and a bit of its history.

The trail conference, which includes numerous individual memberships, began planning to move to its new location in the Darlington Schoolhouse about ten years ago. Their old location was in a small office building down the road on Ramapo Valley Road closer to Suffern. They raised money, received several grants and finally were able to restore the old schoolhouse and construct a new wing without jeopardizing its history to be a place of business and educational value to those looking to learn more about hiking trails.

“The new location is great,” said Gary, a Ramapo College grad. “I get out of work at 5:30 and then go right over to the trail and hike.”

The NY-NJ Trail Conference is now able to better handle two different sectors, according to Gary, thanks to the large amount of space available inside their new building. Gary is part of the financial side that brings in income. There is also a program side that is in charge of maintaining and building trails, as well as running events to help educate people.

Gary explained how the programming team builds, maintains and organizes trails under their watch. There is a small team of paid employees who have jobs to organize the more than 1400 volunteers that the trail conference has. Volunteers maintain all trails by traveling them at least three times per calendar year and reporting/fixing any problems necessary such as overgrown brush, falling trees and  missing/worn trail sign markers. Gary also described how they sometimes build new trails, which requires a lot of skilled and hard manual labor; the trail conference supplies training to its volunteers, which is free or for a fee in some cases.

The trail conference also does a significant mapping of trails in the surrounding region, including the Ramapo Reservation. Gary explained that program volunteers carry high-tech GPS tracking devices while hiking specific trails in order to gather data on the location. The technology is used to help map out exactly where the trails are, and even is able to show how steep the route is at each particular spot. Gary hikes many routes himself and often takes notice if trails need to be maintained.

There are a few new improvements that the trail conference has coming to the area that would be very interesting and beneficial to Ramapo College students. As many students who have gone the Ramapo Reservation have noticed, walking there can be quite dangerous along Rt. 202, with traffic traveling at high speeds and no sidewalks. There is currently a back trail that extends from the schoolhouse to the trails, but this still leaves a gap where hikers must walk on a small shoulder on Rt. 202 in order to reach that point.

Gary informed me that plans are in the works for a new trail in place that will lead from the traffic light by the commuter lot at Ramapo College directly to the Reservation trails. This means that students walking to the Reservation will no longer have to risk their lives and brave Rt. 202’s speeding cars but instead can walk behind the trail conference headquarters and arrive safely. They will be installing a bridge in order to get across a stream and wetlands and aim to have the project done as soon as possible, he said.

When the trail conference finds land that it wants to preserve and use for new potential trail sites it buys it up and then sells it to the state; this way the state can legally protect the land from being developed.

Gary also talked about work done under the science director, which involves eradicating evasive plant species from potential trail sites. The stewardship program uses interns to map out the sites and identify any foreign plant species that are damaging the natural landscape. The NY-NJ Trail Conference then takes measures with its interns and volunteers to get rid of the unnatural plant species, where practical, and restore the area to its natural vegetation.

The program is looking to take some interns, and encourages Ramapo College environmental/science majors to look into these opportunities.

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Matthew Salerno is a Ramapo College Journalism student graduating in May of 2015. He is currently working on his portfolio and looking for a local reporting job after his college career comes to a close.

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